Common Elements

As stated in "Understanding Urban Transportation Systems," an action guide published by the National League of Cities, transportation systems are complex and require an understanding of travel behavior and demand, of pricing options for consumers and of community goals.  Traditional approaches to transportation - including the construction and maintenance of roadways and sidewalks - remain critical elements of a successful transportation system.  The planning, design and implementation of these elements - based on transportation and land use priorities - greatly impact how effectively cities are able to deliver a sustainable transportation system.


Streets are considered the backbone of the transportation system. They enable delivery of goods, as well as travel by residents and visitors. Streets are generally classified according to the volume of vehicular traffic for which they were designed. Common classifications include: 

  • Arterials: Facilitate relatively longer trip lengths at moderate to high speeds with limited access to adjacent properties. They are the high-volume traffic corridors serving major urban centers.
  • Collectors: Collect and distribute significant amounts of traffic between arterials, minor collectors and local streets at moderate to low operating speeds.
  • Local Streets: Provide direct access to abutting properties. They have relatively low traffic volumes, operating speeds, and minimal through traffic. 

Sidewalks/Pedestrian Networks

The most basic sustainable transportation system is the sidewalk, which gives residents access by foot to nearby amenities. Sidewalks increase connectivity between developments, provide a safe space for pedestrian activity, help to encourage active living and in turn can contribute to a sense of place and community.


Two basic types of transit are bus and rail. More recently, however, hybrid forms, like bus rapid transit, combine the best of both systems. Mid-sized and large cities typically offer routine bus service. Only the largest cities have a full rail system, although many cities now have at least one rail route, commonly using light rail. Streetcars are often the preferred option for new urban rail systems.

Bicycle Routes

City bicycle travel generally takes place on streets integrated with other traffic, often in designated bike lanes. Many cities also offer off-road paths, sometimes integrated with running trails. Increasingly, cities are creating bike share programs to allow for greater mobility and access around the city. The rise in popularity of bike share programs has increased demand for dedicated bike lanes, bike service stations and bike shops in and around cities.

Private Fleets

Taxicab companies are the most common type of private fleets. However, other specialized fleets are being offered by private companies and non-profit organizations, including carsharingbike sharing, pedi-cab companies and tourist trolleys.

Public Fleets

Most local governments maintain a fleet of vehicles. Some, like emergency vehicles or sanitation vehicles, are highly specialized. Others are simply cars used for city business. Cities are increasing greening their fleets as a means to demonstrate sustainability priorities to their constituents and reduce operating expenses by utilizing alternatively fueled or fuel-efficient vehicles.